Balch Springs Case Raises the Question: Should Police Officers Be Banned From Firing at Moving Cars?

From a friend's father to his football coach, the adults who knew Jordan Edwards seem genuinely stunned by his death. Not this kid, they seem to agree. Some kids - well, it might be more believable. Not this one. Jordan, 15, was fatally shot Saturday night when a Balch Springs police officer fired at the car in which he was a passenger. According to a terse police statement, the vehicle was "backing down the road in an aggressive manner" toward officers when the shooting occurred. The Balch Springs department, to its credit, promptly and appropriately turned over investigation of the shooting to outside agencies. It's now being overseen by the Dallas County Sheriff's Department and the Dallas County District Attorney's Public Integrity Unit. No matter who investigates, this case is not going to go quietly away. So far, there's nothing to suggest the kids in the car were up to anything more nefarious than attending a rowdy house party. Police had been summoned by reports of unsupervised teens drinking and roaming around the neighborhood. Dallas attorney Lee Merritt, who represented the Fort Worth woman mother whose arrest by a white police officer went crazy-viral in December, has already issued a steady stream of tweets on behalf of Jordan's family. In his telling, the kids in the car were non-aggressively backing out of a parking space when the Balch Springs officer fired. This is for investigators to sort out. But the case raises a broader policy debate that has been raging across the country for several years: Should police even be permitted to shoot at moving cars? It's not an easy question to resolve. Some departments - Los Angeles, Denver, Cleveland, and others - have an outright ban against officers firing their weapons to stop cars unless the suspects are using deadly weapons other than the car itself. In short, these departments do not consider "he was going to run me over" as a justifiable reason for officers to fire. Los Angeles policy bluntly spells out the alternative: Get out of the way. "Any officer threatened by an oncoming vehicle shall move out of its path instead of discharging a firearm at it or any of its occupants," the policy states. This is not an easy issue to resolve; police strategists have been gnawing on it for years. Dallas, like many cities, addresses the issue by allowing officers to fire at moving cars only to prevent "death or serious bodily injury" to officers or bystanders. At the same time, officers are trained not to stand in front of or behind vehicles in uncertain situations, DPD Assistant Chief Tammie Hughes said in 2015, during an interview with an Indianapolis newspaper that dealt with the topic. Some experts, though, say that policy doesn't go far enough. "If you have time to make the shoot/don't shoot decision and shoot, then you also undoubtedly had time to get out of the way," said Dennis Jay Kenny, a criminal justice professor at John Jay College, in an interview with a Pasadena radio station. The debate - between police departments, associations, and even individual officers - centers around a small but critical word choice: "should not" versus "shall not." "Shall not" proponents say telling officers they can't shoot at moving cars eliminates the need to make what may well be a disastrous judgment call. The Denver Police Department, for example, adopted the "shall not" rule after the fatal shooting of an unarmed 17-year-old girl who was trying to flee police in a stolen car. But the "should not" advocates say a blanket policy is too often a knee-jerk response to a single case, and it deprives officers of the discretion they need in potentially deadly situations. "Make no mistake, shooting at or from a moving vehicle is strongly discouraged by all law enforcement agencies," write Los Angeles attorney Missy O'Linn, a former police officer specializes in civil liability cases and police training and tactics. "However, an absolute prohibition does not have a basis in the realities of this world." She wrote in response to a series of 2015 recommendations from the Police Executive Research Forum, a police policy think-tank. The group's executive director, Chuck Wexler, has been critical of agencies that adopt vague "should not" fire-at-car policies as allowing too many shootings that end up being "lawful, but awful." It's easy, and sometimes perhaps a little self-serving, to second-guess police officers' split-second decisions, to spend endless time and resources deconstructing scenarios that took only seconds to play out. But this particular decision brought untold grief to the family of a kid who, by all accounts, was not a danger, not a criminal, not a menace.It cost Jordan Edwards his life.  Continue reading...

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